Virtual Pilgrimage and Adaptation to Crisis

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Spanish major Maddie Cash’s research project, “Virtual Pilgrimage and Adaptation to Crisis,” was accepted to the Virtual Poster Session this year. On spiritually transformative pilgrimage journeys such as the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, travelers pursuing spiritual reflection have often considered the use of technology to be an undesirable element to the journey. Then in 2020, COVID-19 canceled so many pilgrimage routes, and as a result, many pilgrims opted to use technology to facilitate pilgrimage in their own locales. Most of Cash’s research—gathered this past summer in the Research Fellows Program—centers on gathering human data that can explain and quantify this shift. To that end, she created a survey and distributed it on prominent pilgrimage sites to maximize responses. Her poster project presents and analyzes the results of this survey. 

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Cash’s project came about through multiple discussions with her faculty mentors, Professor Sharenda Barlar (who directs Wheaton’s Pilgrimage to Santiago summer abroad program) and Dr. Susan Dunn-Hensley, in which they sought to better understand the resilience of pilgrims in times of crisis, as well as the historical impact and modern-day relevance of pilgrimages. In order to give “pilgrims” a platform to discuss what they were learning as they traveled during past and present pilgrimages, Cash and her faculty mentors created a blog called Sojourning Scholars, where they posted interviews with faculty members at Wheaton on the ways that their disciplines intersect with the act of pilgrimage. They have also posted about their own pilgrimage experiences and projects.

After graduation, Cash plans to attend law school, where, she says, “I hope to fight for others’ voices to be heard and injustice to be rectified. Throughout my time at Wheaton, I've learned that diversity in rhetoric and language can not only establish identity for others, but it can open the door to more inclusive legal policies. Our legal system is in desperate need of creative ways of giving a platform to those who are unheard and unseen.”